Embattled Malaysia PM Muhyiddin wins 'undivided loyalty' from ally PAS

Umno has repeated its call for better terms from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in exchange for its support.
Umno has repeated its call for better terms from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in exchange for its support.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin received a further boost to his leadership Tuesday (Oct 27) after Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) pledged its “undivided loyalty”, just hours after Umno decided not to quit the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government as well.

Despite an embarrassing royal rejection of the government’s request for emergency powers, PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan also said in its statement that it called on the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) to “defend the leadership of the Prime Minister”.

“PAS expresses its undivided loyalty for the leadership of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and at the same time stresses the support of all 18 MPs with the PN government,” he said.

The decision by Umno, the largest ruling party, came after a series of marathon meetings on Monday over whether to retain its support for Mr Muhyiddin.

PN information chief Azmin Ali also said on Tuesday evening that all members in the ruling pact have reiterated their support for the premier.

“PN welcomes the spirit of solidarity by the component parties... who have expressed full support for the leadership of Prime Minister Muhyiddin,” the Senior Minister for the Economy said.

Mr Muhyiddin’s control of Parliament had been in doubt since opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim claimed last month he had a “formidable majority” that would allow him to unseat the premier.

While the assertion was never proved, the refusal by Malaysia’s King on Sunday to sanction the government’s request to declare an emergency raised the pressure on whether the premier’s already tenuous bloc of 113 members of the 222-strong Lower House would hold.

The Straits Times understands that a meeting of BN MPs, followed by Umno state and central leadership meeting lasting all Monday afternoon to past midnight, failed to reach a consensus on a way forward for the grand old party. It finally issued a statement saying it would continue to support the PN government, but did not explicitly mention Mr Muhyiddin.

However, Mr Muhyiddin can look forward to passing Budget 2021 next month, according to Umno supreme council member Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who told The Straits Times that party MPs were ordered to defend the government’s slim majority in Parliament.

The budget is due to be tabled on Nov 6 before being voted on later in the month. The government would collapse if it is unable to approve expenditure, leaving Malaysia open to the spectre of general elections that would worsen what is already its worst month of coronavirus infections on record.

But the premier is not out of the woods yet, with his largest ally set to make a list of demands for its loyalty, including more say in government decisions, and still desiring to go to the polls as soon as the outbreak is contained.

Changes to the Cabinet remain on the cards, but the immediate priority is for a formal structure for the PN leadership to consult on major issues.

“Because many of the PN party leaders are not in Cabinet, there should be a presidential council where major decisions are discussed, to avoid sudden decisions like last week’s proposal for an emergency,” said former minister Rahman.

Umno president Zahid Hamidi and his deputy, Mr Mohamad Hasan, as well as PAS president Hadi Awang and a clutch of other PN party chiefs are not in the Cabinet.

Sources told The Straits Times that some factions in the party want to reclaim the premiership that it held from independence until its shock electoral defeat in 2018.

Meanwhile, former premier Najib Razak admitted to proposing a pact with Datuk Seri Anwar, sans ally Democratic Action Party (DAP), which Umno alleges is out to undermine the interests of the Malay Muslim majority.

But the proposal drew fire from nearly all Umno lawmakers, who found the prospect of working with their two-decade-old nemesis anathema, or did not believe the Parti Keadilan Rakyat president could ditch DAP.